Manchester United: Fall From Grace

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are solely of the author and not representative or reflective of The LACAS Chronicles as a whole.

At first, being an early 2000s Pakistani kid, I found football to be basic and boring. It only had one goal, which was to literally score goals, and obviously as a kid I didn’t find the passing range or inventiveness of the Xavi’s, Iniesta’s and Pirlo’s mesmerizing at all (sorry Barcelona fans, but tiki-taka is too complicated for kids). What, or rather who, made me fall in love with the beautiful game was Cristiano Ronaldo. At Manchester United, he was a different beast. I remember watching his highlights in the famous red kit and finding myself dazzled by his crazy fast dribbles. Compared to everyone else on the pitch, Ronaldo looked inhuman. I am a proud Bayern fan and have been for many years now, but for getting me hooked on football, Manchester United will forever hold a special place in my heart. It was, and still is, the most famous and well-renowned club in the world with the biggest fan base, but recently, United fans have been sadly treated to boring, fluky and desperate football with players playing without any set style. So how did United, a giant in world football, go from their former self to a team that’s fighting for survival in the English top flight right now? My reasons are the following:

1. Blame the manager

Perhaps the easiest explanations for United’s fall from grace in recent years is the haphazard appointment and dismissals of managers ever since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. United appointed David Moyes as his replacement. He was signed on a 6-year contract, and was subsequently sacked with less than one year gone down in his contract. Infamously, by the time David Moyes’s 6-year contract ran down in 2019, United had appointed and sacked 3 different managers. The club has failed to give any of the managers time to integrate their philosophy into the club (much like modern day Chelsea, but somehow the teams I dislike keep on on performing miracles ). Hence, the caliber of managers the club has appointed, at first glance, doesn’t look to be a part of the problem.
Moyes’s true successor, Louis Van Gaal, was expected to bring back the glory days of Manchester United: he had won multiple UEFA competitions and domestic competitions throughout his career and was expected to replicate the same level of success with here. Unfortunately though, apart from creating arguably the funniest interview compilation in management history and putting on a show on the touchline by spontaneously falling to the ground (I honestly still can’t make sense of that incident), he didn’t achieve much and was subsequently sacked. It can be argued that Van Gaal’s spell as United’s manager wasn’t convincing enough for the club to keep investing in him, but critics may point to how it took Jurgen Klopp 4 years to win a major trophy with Liverpool (although Liverpool winning UCL was a fluke and I’ll stand by it, don’t @ me).
After Louis Van Gaal, United managed an absolutely marquee signing in Jose Mourinho in the Summer of 2016. The special one, as he was nicknamed during his tenure with Chelsea in the mid-2000s, was one of if not the greatest manager in football when he arrived at Manchester. While some fans were iffy about Jose’s defensive approach to football, most were confident that it would only be a matter of time before United returned back to their glory days. However, this too was not to be the case.
Jose’s first season was a refreshing one for the club. After 2013, the club won two major trophies (the FA community shield, UEFA Europa League) and finished a close second to Manchester City in the Premier League. Most fans were confident that United could build over this and come out guns blazing in Mourinho’s second season in charge. The second season was, however, a complete disaster. Jose was not able to replicate the same performances as the first season, and his side exited the champions league after losing to Sevilla in the last 16 stages, prompting Jose to go on a 12-minute rant which will go down in time immemorial (I highly recommend watching it in case you haven’t already). This, and many other controversies proved detrimental to his time as the head coach, so he too was subsequently dismissed following a poor start to the 2018-19 season.
His immediate interim and long term successor was named to be Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Ole’s tenure started with united winning 5-1 against Cardiff, the first time they had scored five goals in a single game since 2013. Ole also managed to guide the United squad to the Champions league quarter finals, after defeating champions league favorites Paris Saint-Germain on away goals over the two-legged tie (one of the most magical and controversial modern day football moments, I’d highly recommend you at least watch highlights of the second leg). Ole indicates a clear philosophy change at United, rather than a marquee signing, United went with a club legend who had yet to establish his managerial career, much like when Zinedine Zidane joined Real Madrid in 2016 as the manager. Ole is currently the Manchester United manager, and while the start to this season has not looked promising, United currently sit 10th in the league standings (at the time of writing), the hierarchy above Ole is clearly open to giving him time and means to set United up for glory. There are flashes of the Manchester United of old in the side, the club again trusting in young English talent, with the likes of young Daniel James , Marcus Rashford, and Mason Greenwood making the match day squads quite often. There have also been some incredible performances on the pitch by this United side: the 3-1 victory against PSG last season, the opening day thrashing of Chelsea (4-0 victory), and the very recent 1-1 draw against Liverpool alongside the Carabao Cup win away to Chelsea (again Chelsea fans, explain where do your young blues go against Man United please) all come to mind. But still, there is a lack of consistency which should, and can never, be associated with a club of Manchester United’s caliber.


2. Blame the management

With United having no clear strategy in any area at the club, fingers also have to be pointed to those in charge of the philosophy of the club and those who make the bigger picture come to life. Ed Woodward, a financial genius for United, can be accredited with the success the club enjoyed off of the pitch since his arrival in 2007. In 2012, he was made executive vice-chairman of the club, and with no sporting director in place, that made Woodward in charge of United’s grand plan operation. Whether it be the appointment of managers, new transfers or renovating the stadium, it was Woodward’s responsibility. With the club’s decline aligning perfect with Woodward’s time as vice chairman, it can be seen as how he is at fault for most going wrong at Manchester United. Woodward, while still as successful in the financial world, has been downright incapable of handling the footballing project. He has failed to negotiate many deals for the club, resulting in managers missing out on their transfer targets and in most cases, and he has been unable to bargain appropriate transfer fees for players: Paul Pogba’s transfer in 2016 made him the world’s most expensive player at the time, costing the club 105 million Euros. Similarly, the signing of Harry Maguire in 2019 for 80 million pounds is the highest transfer fee agreed for a defender. Both players have failed to live up to the valuation these transfer values indicate.
However, Woodward cannot be fully blamed for these blunders, as he was not fit to lead this role for the club in the first place. Fingers therefore, have to be pointed even further up the hierarchy, at the owners of the club: the Glazers. The Glazers have been accused of running the club purely from a financial point of view, ignoring its success on the pitch. Fans have become increasingly discontent because of this with the #Glazersout movement being the strongest example. . The Glazers’ failure in appointing a Sporting Director when the club is desperately in need of one and their lack of interest in pursuing transfer targets for the team has led to many blaming them for the club’s downfall in recent years.


3. Blame the players

Finally, as much as other factors have led to the club’s downfall, ultimately, it is the players who take up the majority of the blame. It was the Ronaldo’s, the Beckham’s, and the Paul Scholes’es of old whose ability to out-do everyone on the pitch inspired football greatness on the pitch. United simply have not had big name players perform like that in recent history. The number 7 jersey Ronaldo wore at United has been circulated 5 times since his departure in 2009, with all of the players failing to deliver on the promise of the number 7 kit. Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia, Angel Di Maria, Memphis Depay, and Alexis Sanchez, all have failed to live up to the expectations of the club, all looking like county players at max. Other marquee signings such as Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, and Fred have also failed to perform at the club.
Even the current breed of players lacks the consistency of United players. There are individual moments of brilliance, but the whole team almost never turns up for the big games and never performs as one unit. But ultimately, it’s not even about that: United players, no matter how recently they’ve joined the club or how much they’ve cost, are always expected to give their all on the pitch for the jersey. This has been the dominant philosophy of the club  throughout history. However adverse the circumstances, United players should refuse to give up. And that is perhaps the greatest issue with this team currently. Too many players are comfortable with hanging their heads after a loss and claiming that it wasn’t their day to win. The spirit to fight till the end has gone amiss with this squad (something us Bayern fans can rather haunting remember quite clearly, following our extra time UEFA Cup loss to United in ’99).


Holistically looking at the issue, one can come to the same outcome. All three of the aforementioned factors have contributed equally to Manchester United’s downfall in recent years and it eventually comes down to one main thing: too many people in too many situations have let the club down too many times. And unless United finds people who care about the club’s success on the pitch, they can’t be rescued from this downward spiral. We’ve already seen too many giants of the game fall to insignificance, AC Milan being one of them. Truth be told, without Manchester United, most of us would never have been introduced to football so whether or not you’re a fan of the club, I’m sure you’d want United to go back to the glory days- that is unless you’re a Liverpool or City fan, but who cares about both of them.

Zaryab Nisar
TLC Writer

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